Governor Walker has called for a special session of the Legislature to begin work on a package of bills related to “welfare reform.” Interestingly, the term “welfare” has long been thrown around loosely to describe any program for the poor – from food stamps to housing assistance. Traditionally the term has referred to the federal system that sent cash to poor parents and their children. Up until the Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, that system was known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) – a program launched during the Great Depression to help widows and their families. Americans have always valued work and been philosophically uncomfortable with letting adults live off of the perceived “public dole.” Critics have long claimed that the program bred poverty and dependence by discouraging work. Much of the resentment toward AFDC has also boiled down to race. While most of AFDC’s beneficiaries were white, for many, it was seen as a handout to poor people with dark skin.
Governor Walker’s new proposals amount to little more than a thinly veiled attempt to create new restrictions and erect new barriers to critical social safety net services which vulnerable populations like domestic violence survivors depend upon. Included in these restrictions are:
- Requiring photo identification cards and drug testing for recipients.
- Requiring child support compliance in the Medical Assistance program.
- Requiring employment screening/employability plans for residents in public housing.
- Establishing asset restrictions on eligibility for SNAP/FoodShare, Wisconsin Works, and Wisconsin Shares.
- Setting forth statewide employment and training program requirement for able-bodied adults receiving Food Share.
While on the surface, these election year proposals may appear to be well intended – to move people from “welfare to work” – the fact is that they offer very few carrots and quite a few sticks. These proposals are punitive in nature and fly in the face of the best practices of trauma informed care which First Lady Tonette Walker has previously championed. Not only will these bills increase administrative cost but will also deprive struggling families of the most essential basic needs – food, shelter and medical care. As an alternative to these harsh measures, we call upon our legislators to support proposals which more accurately reflect real Wisconsin values that put the health and well-being of our citizens first. We support measures that lift up rather than further stigmatize poor people like:
- Raising the minimum wage so that no working person has to live in poverty
- Addressing the transportation barriers which face low-income workers
- Expanding access to meaningful job skills training and educational opportunities
- Ensuring adequate funding for quality daycare and childcare needs
- Addressing the unique barriers to employment faced by unpaid caregivers, survivors of violence, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations
We are confident that working together we can find workable common sense solutions that lead people out of poverty.
Steve Vickman, Executive Director, HELP of Door County
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.